October 10, 2009
Phil Cuzzi needs to be held accountable.
More pointedly, Cuzzi needs to watch the rest of the postseason from his living room sofa.
If Bud Selig and his MLB officials have any concern for the integrity of this postseason, they will tell the long-time ump that his services won't be needed any longer this fall.
Anything less than holding the left field umpire responsible for totally blowing a call that was right in front of him on Friday night will send a message that baseball doesn't care about its games being decided in a fair and accurate matter.
Even if you didn't watch Game 2 of the ALDS between the Yankees and Twins — a 4-3, 11-inning win that gave New York a 2-0 series lead — you only have to look at this picture to see just how wrong Cuzzi was. On a bad-call scale, this one measured at a 23.
For more context, a quick recap of the play: With no outs in the 11th inning and the game tied 3-3, Minnesota's Joe Mauer(notes) hit a ball down the left field line. Melky Cabrera(notes) couldn't quite get to it and the ball bounced fair by about 4-6 inches before bounding into the Yankee Stadium stands for what would have been a ground rule double.
But despite being in the correct position to make the right call, Cuzzi called it foul and sent Mauer back to the plate.
Mauer eventually got on base with a single and found his way to third base when Minnesota loaded the bases with no outs. Cuzzi appeared to be wriggling off the hook, but the Twins recorded three straight outs without getting Mauer home and then Mark Teixeira(notes) led off the bottom of the inning with a game-winning homer.
The postseason's latest umpiring controversy had bloomed into full form.
Admittedly, it's impossible to say that Mauer and the Twins would have been able to take advantage of a correct call — perhaps things play out differently and he's still stranded at second to end the inning — but my call for something to be done isn't about the Twins losing or the Yankees winning or even about Cuzzi himself.
It's about trying to reverse the tide of bad umpiring that has already marred this early postseason, starting with Brandon Inge's phantom HBP in the tiebreaker game to some bad calls in the Colorado-Philadelphia opener to C.B. Bucknor missing calls at first base in the Angels-Red Sox series.
After Friday's game, crew chief Tim Tschida met with the media, acknowledged an "incorrect decision was rendered" and had this to say about any possible punishment:
"There's a guy who's sitting over in the umpire's dressing room right now that feels horrible. No one feels it worse than the umpire and whether there's anything that comes further from that, I don't think it serves the purpose."
No human umpire is going to be perfect, but when one makes an egregious and series-turning error like Cuzzi's, baseball has to do more than just shrug its shoulders and stand idly by. The time to talk about expanding instant replay past home run calls will come this offseason and it will be a worthy discussion topic, but for now Major League Baseball needs to show that it cares about getting it right as much as those of us at home.
Let's see if they actually do.